It’s summer, and it’s hot — for anglers and fish.
And that’s why Clarks Hill Lake is the place to be for striper fishing.
It’s a hotspot because of — and in spite of — the heat of summer. That’s especially true for anglers fishing near the base of the Lake Russell Dam.
As the water temperature climbs across 71,100-acre Clarks Hill, aka Thurmond Lake, temperatures are also climbing for area businesses and residences, prompting the need for more energy to run air conditioners. This leads to more power generation at the dam, which is achieved by pulling more water through the turbines, drawing the cooler waters from Lake Russell’s depths into the upper end of Clarks Hill.
Almost every day from early summer through the fall, water is released through the dam, starting in the early afternoon and lasting through sundown. Striped bass and hybrid bass flock to the cooler water, chasing baitfish. Schools of these predators smack the surface relentlessly for several minutes at a time, disappearing back into deeper water when they’ve had their fill.
As quickly as one school disappears, another shows itself, slashing the surface. With trolling motors or outboards, depending on how far away the next school pops up, anglers race to get within casting distance. Walk-the-dog type surface lures are deadly on these fish. They can’t resist them, and it’s a thrilling way to hook them.
These fish range in size from a couple of pounds well up into double figures. Jason Wolfe of Wolfe’s Guide Service said this time of year, this is one of his favorite places to fish. He spends much of the year guiding for catfish on several lakes and rivers, and he does some striper guiding on the Wateree River in the early spring, but he said the Clarks Hill summer bite is special.
“This is some of the most-exciting fishing you’ll find, and the thing about Clarks Hill this time of year is, the bite is really consistent,” Wolfe said. “We’ve all had days where we thought we’d kill the fish, only to be let down by the action. But I’m always confident here that we’ll have a good day.”
Wolfe said the July heat can slow the bite down on many lakes, but at Clarks Hill, that heat actually helps the fishing.
“The stripers and hybrids are going to find the coolest water they can, and at Clarks Hill, that means the base of the Lake Russell dam, every afternoon,” he said.
Anglers don’t need to be within casting distance of the dam. As long as they can see the dam, Wolfe said, they’ll find plenty of fish on top.
“Once they open those wheels at the dam, the water cools down considerably,” he said. “It doesn’t take long to cool the water, and as much as they release, it cools it off for quite a distance. That helps, because it means a lot of boats can fish here without it getting crowded. You might have a boat or two within earshot of you from time to time, but for the most part, you’ll see numerous boats all spread out, working lots of different schools. There’s plenty of water here, and plenty of fish.”
Wolfe’s strategy is simple. He likes to arrive in the early afternoon, get his boat within sight of the dam, then find a place to sit tight until he sees schooling action.
“They usually quit running water out of the dam around 6 p.m., so if I can get there around 2, maybe even earlier, I know I’ll have some good action,” he said. “You don’t need to show up at 6 a.m. though. At that time, the stripers are spread out all over the lake because it’s cool, and they’re not generating power at the dam yet. You want to be there at the hottest part of the day. That’s when the dam starts operating, and that’s when the stripers move to that part of the lake.”
When a school starts busting the surface outside of casting distance, Wolfe will head in their direction, either with his trolling motor or his outboard.
“When they come up and start feeding on top, it can last up to 10 minutes or longer each time,” he said. “So if you can get within casting range to them within a couple of minutes, make a move.”
Wolfe said that when moving toward an active school, he makes sure to stay out of their way. Once he’s close enough to make a cast, he stops. And he definitely doesn’t want to approach a school head-on.
“Once you’re within casting range, you just cast your lure and work it back,” he said. “Sometimes, you’ll get hit multiple times on the same retrieve before you hook up. Other times, your lure will get snatched before you turn your reel handle. This is really exciting fishing. It’s not at all uncommon for everyone in the boat to be hooked up at the same time. That often happens multiple times on each trip.”
Wolfe likes walk-the-dog type lures. He said it’s always a good idea to have different sizes and different models; each one offers a slightly different look to the fish. What works best on one day may not work the best the next day.
“A lot of different companies make some really good ones. I usually have the most luck with lures that have at least a little bit of chartreuse or other bright color,” he said. “Heddon Zara Spooks are top notch and are offered in the most patterns with that color in them. Rapala Skitter Walks are good, and the MirrOLure She Dog also has good action and comes in great colors. I like to have several different ones to use throughout each trip. And it never hurts to have some in other colors,” he said.
Clarks Hill Striper/hybrid regulations
Striped bass and hybrid bass on Clarks Hill Lake, aka Lake Thurmond, are managed with a 10-fish daily creel limit. Only three fish per day longer than 26 inches may be kept.
HOW TO GET THERE — Clarks Hill is the easternmost reservoir on the Savannah River system, just downstream from Lake Russell, with McCormick, S.C., a good jumping-off point at mid-lake. Plenty of boat ramps serve the lake. A few include a small ramp with ample parking near Mt. Carmel at the base of the Lake Russell Dam off of Russell Dam Overlook Rd. and SC 81, ramps at Hickory Knob State Park off SR S 33-7, Leroys Ferry Recreation Area off of FS563A and the Mt. Carmel Boat Ramp off of SR S 33-168.
WHEN TO GO — The topwater bite for Clarks Hill stripers and hybrids is strongest from early summer through mid-fall. Some of the best fishing days occur on the hottest days.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Topwater lures with a walk-the-dog action are great choices. Heavy duty buzzbaits are also good. Most stripers and hybrids will be feeding on the surface, so topwater lures work very well. Anglers also have success with Rat-L-Traps retrieved quickly to keep them near the surface, and large swimbaits are effective at times. Medium-heavy rods are good choices, and baitcasting reels spooled with 15 to 20-pound test line are standard.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Jason Wolfe, Wolfe’s Guide Service, 803-487-3690. William Sasser, Sasser Guide Service, 706-589-5468. Tony Shepherd, Little River Guide Service, 706-210-3474. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Hickory Knob State Park, McCormick, S.C., 864-391-2450. Caravel Place, McCormick, S.C., 832-865-2180. Holiday Inn Express, N. Augusta, S.C., 803-341-9505.
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